At the end of last year, I decided I needed to lose weight.
My twin babies had become twin toddlers and we were all sleeping a lot more consistently. I could no longer justify ordering pizza three times a week because I was afraid I would fall asleep on the hot stove while cooking. I had time to wake up and make my lunch, instead of spending the first half of my work day fretting over whether I was going to run over to Wendy's or McDonald's for lunch before ultimately deciding to go to both.
After doing the least amount of research possible, I decided that the Paleo diet was what I was looking for. I Amazon Primed the three cheapest books I could find on the subject.
I immediately started telling everyone about my new lifestyle choice, thinking that I would either be: a) more successful if I knew I would disappoint everyone by failing, or b) able to go on the most epic junk food binge of my life fueled by the knowledge that I had let everyone down. The one unexpected flaw in my plan is that I opened myself up to a barrage of annoying thoughts and opinions from all the dumb people in my life.
1. "Why are you doing that?"
This is the first question anybody on a diet gets asked, and its intention is all over the place. Best case scenario, you're being asked by a dipshit new-agey hippie who is really trying to say, "You don't have to lose weight cause we're all beautiful creatures, and it's what's inside that counts, groovy baby." Nice thought. But what's inside is a heart that is pumping double-time to carry the extra person that I've become over the last 10 years. So yes, inner beauty is great, but most of the fat I'm trying to lose is also on the inside.
The more likely reason someone is asking "Why are you doing that?" is because they know about the Paleo diet, and they don't like it. It's not fun. You're cutting out grains, sugar, and dairy. When you attempt to go Paleo, you're voluntarily giving yourself a gluten allergy, diabetes, and lactose intolerance. People who are anti-Paleo are focusing on all the stuff that you can't eat. That's not how to approach this. It's about substitutions. You can't eat peanut butter, so try almond butter. You can't eat bread, so put your hamburger between two pieces of lettuce. Missing chocolate chip cookies? Have a handful of raw, unsalted almonds, and if you're feeling extra naughty, salt them with the tears that are always streaming down your face. If you're going to have any success on the Paleo diet, you have to sacrifice, and most people just aren't willing to do that.
2. "On Weight Watchers, you can eat whatever you want."
One of the least helpful pieces of advice you can offer someone who starts a new diet is to suggest they try a different diet. Especially Weight Watchers. People act like it's a secret diet that you've never heard of before. I tried Weight Watchers Online. It wasn't for me. It's a calculator diet. Everything you eat has a point value, and you're allowed a certain number of points per day. You add up all the points that you ate that day, and if you go over, oopsie. Try again tomorrow. I'm bad at math. I spent a half hour trying to figure out the points on a piece of apple pie. I did the math wrong. I ate two pieces of apple pie.
You're allowed to eat whatever you want, but what I want to eat is garbage. I can't manage a diet where I'm allowed ice cream as long as I exhibit self-control. I have no self-control. I got to where I am by being able to eat whatever I want. For Weight Watchers to work, you have to go to meetings and I'm not a meetings guy. I'm super competitive and I lie. I'd go in and be like, "How'd I do? I ate three points all week and I worked out 8 hours a day. That's how I did. Why did I put on 25 pounds? Ummm, that's called muscle, baby. Ever hear of it?"
3. "I thought you'd know better than to fall prey to a hipster diet fad."
This is the strangest reaction I've had to my adoption of the Paleo lifestyle. Because you're allowed (and occasionally encouraged) to eat bacon, there is an assumption that the Paleo diet pairs nicely with beards and PBR. This is not a new diet. The very idea of the diet is based on the diet of cavemen in the Paleolithic Era. By eliminating everything that a caveman couldn't eat, the idea is that we are returning to our dietary roots as a species. While I can't explain the recent surge in popularity, the idea that you should only eat high quality meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables is not new.
When I was accused of jumping on a fad, my accuser said, "If you want to lose weight, just eat meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables. This Paleo diet is nonsense." My nose almost started bleeding I was so confused. You've literally just described the Paleo diet but you didn't give it a cool hip name. I started doing the Paleo diet because the food was most similar to what I was feeding my children. My wife and I were giving our babies only organic vegetables and fruits, cage-free eggs, etc... and then we would eat quick garbage. That's a big reason I chose the Paleo diet. It wasn't because I thought I'd fit in with the fat National.
4. "Do you want to grab a quick bite to eat?"
Yes. Yes I do want to grab a quick bite to eat. Unfortunately, the Paleo diet is not really designed for spur-of-the-moment dining. Because the core of the Paleo diet involves giving up the majority of processed foods, dining out becomes a real hassle. You can forget about anything with a drive-thru window. Just to be extra cautious, I don't even go to banks with drive-up tellers for fear that my subconscious will take me to the McDonald's drive-thru, and I'll have to order something so as not to appear rude.
And if you're going to a fancy sit down eatery with tables and chairs and all, make sure you have two hours to inspect the menu online before arriving because the patience of your friends and loved ones is going to wear thin as you ask the waiter for the fifth time if the chef could use coconut oil instead of vegetable.
Paleo is about preparation and adjusting to sameness. Every Sunday, I spend three hours hollowing out tomatoes so I can feel them with onions, peppers, and scrambled eggs. That's what I eat every morning for breakfast. Is it tasty? I don't know. I really don't. Taste doesn't matter. So when a friend says, "Hey do you want to get something to eat?" I just say "no" and eat the same exact things I ate yesterday.
5. Political statements from the left and the right regarding GMOs and natural foods.
On occaison, I will go to a farmer's market that's located inside the oldest bottling plant in the United States. I used to go as an excuse to buy a case of their locally made craft soda, but now that I'm eating Paleo, I look around at all the fresh and natural food, and I sometimes buy it. I ran into a woman there who was also eating Paleo, and she started going on and on about the horrors of factory farming and GMOs and Monsanto. She told me the names of the two and a half documentaries that everyone who politicizes food for the left watches, and I just nodded politely while I dreamed of Snickers bars.
I am all for the ethical treatment of animals, and I choose to give my kids as much organic and natural food as I can. However, I am not eating Paleo for any kind of political reason. I am doing it because I'm fat, and I would like to be less fat. I haven't been moved by anything I've seen on Netflix Streaming. I ate like garbage for 31 years and have decided to eat less garbage.
The other political extreme is worse. "Grass-fed beef is a crock. Beef is beef. Obama..." Ok. We're done. I was unaware that your support of my diet choice was going to lead down the anti-Obama road, but you guys are magic that way. I'm eating Paleo because it was the first book I bought. If the book tells me to buy expensive fresh meat, I'm buying the stupid expensive fresh meat because I'm too tired from being alive to think on my own.
6. "You're doing Paleo. That's great. Me too. Here are 10 recipes every day forever, new friend!"
Sticking to a diet is hard, and it's even harder to stick to a diet when you are on your own. Sometimes though, the solitary approach is preferable. The one thing that can be said about people who live the Paleo lifestyle is that they sure do love talking about it. I think one of the biggest factors of success with the Paleo diet is that you don't have time to eat because you're too busy talking about how Paleo you are. Having support around you is great, but having too much support can really turn the tables.
Since starting this diet, I've been added to at least 10 email lists and Facebook groups. I get recipe clippings left on my desk. I get emails directly from other Paleos who must have a Google alert set up for anytime something with the word "Paleo" gets published. I have my one book with the three or four recipes that I know how to cook. I'm sure that recipe for blackened sea bass with a ginger honey reduction and fennel puree is delicious, but I'm also not a contestant on Top Chef, and I have no idea what any of those words mean when put together like that. Please accept my apathetic grunts as an adoption of the caveman language as well.
7. "You're doing Paleo? You'd love Crossfit!"
While I do need to start incorporating more exercise into my life, I do not need another pseudo-cult to obsess over. I'm sure a separate article could be written on the annoying things people say to Crossfitters, but it is not going to be written by me.
(images via Sean Sullivan)